February 12, 2013

Up Close & Personal: Natalia Barbieri of Bionda Castana

Natalia & I at a Fashion Event in Dubai

There is a British label on my radar that I just can't get enough of - BIONDA CASTANA. It is owned by two half-Italian Londoners - Ms. Jennifer Portman and Ms. Natalia Barbieri and they create shoes that are irresistible, super cool and very comfortable! Carrying girls names, each pair of shoes is a piece of art that will make any outfit SCREAM to be noticed!

Elizabeth Olsen, Kiera Knightly and Michelle Dockery are all fans and the label is well on its course to become one of those super brands we all know. 

I met Ms. Natalia in Dubai during a fashion event where she collaborated with the mother-daughter duo Lina and Tala Samaan to create stunning Lina and Tala shoes. I found her very sweet, friendly, and kind enough to sit for an interview for My Small Obsessions. I hope you enjoy this in-depth look into an incredibly talented designer of a really cool brand! :)

Tell me a little about the brand?
My partner Jennifer and I met in 1997 at University in London while studying Business. We had always wanted to start an accessories label so it wasn't a question of why, it was a matter of when.
When we set up BIONDA CASTANA, neither of us had any previous experience or qualifications in design or in manufacturing shoes. Nor did we have a network of contacts in the Fashion Industry or know any press contacts. We really set ourselves up for a tough challenge! We started this business with nothing other than passion, and that is what we are most proud of. In terms of shoe design, we were both self taught. Saying this, the factory where we did our apprenticeship in 2006 helped us tremendously along this journey and they manufacture our collections to this day.

The brand was launched in 2007 with very little capital. For our first season, we showed  a very small capsule collection for Spring/Summer 2008 at the WSA Show in Las Vegas. We are now stocked at the most influential stores in the world namely Browns, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstom, Moda Operandi, Aizel Russia, Level Shoe District in Dubai and Isetan Japan- to name a few! 

I ADORE the name - does it mean anything?
BIONDA CASTANA translated from Italian to English means 'Blonde Brunette'. Jennifer is a blond and I am a brunette and this was our nickname in university! :)

Jennifer and Natalia- The blond and the brunette
When you design a shoe which is more important - Fashion or Function?
Honestly, BOTH. You can't have one without the other in my opinion. We are women creating shoes for women so comfort is very important in our design process.

Who is the typical customer you design for?
Women who are Fashion Forward, Unique, and Confident. 

From where do you get inspiration for each collection?
The styles of Diane Kruger and Giovanna Battaglia (the Italian editor of L'uomo Vogue- Men's vogue in Italy) influence our designs. Giovanna is creative in the way that she mixes things together; she likes texture and doesn't care about matching her shoes with her bags. 
In terms of inspiration, it is based on our day to day lives, our friends, films, travels, cultures - anything really, but predominately our gut feeling. We first research and then create a mood board of images that inspire us. This then becomes the focal point of our collection. 

Do you have any favourites from the Spring/Summer 2013 collection?
The 'Lucinda' is my favourite. We wanted to add a graphic monochrome feel into the collection to achieve a strong architectural impression. It looks effortlessly polished, suits everyone, and we have used it in a way that is not conventionally safe.
The LUCINDA shoe
Natalia's favourite in the Spring/Summer 2013 collection 
Where in the Middle East are your shoes stocked? How about online?
Level Shoe District and Symphony Boutique in Dubai and Harvey Nichols in Kuwait. Online we are stocked at My-wardrobe.com, Nordstrom.com,  Farfetch.com, and Theoutnet.com

Do you have any plans for expansion in the near future?
We would love to focus on increasing our collaborations in Spring/Summer 2014, launching a glove range, and expanding our handbag offering. A focal point this year is launching our e-commerce site and increasing our wholesale network. 
What is your typical day like?
Haha there is no such thing as a typical day! I switch hats from sales, marketing, design, budgeting, PR, e-commerce .... the list is endless!

Well I for one can't wait to see what BIONDA CASTANA designs next and I am currently searching for the perfect shoe from their collection to wear this season! 

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